Locals respond to MLAs’ £5000 wage hike

An independent panel decided last week that assembly members’ pay should rise by almost £5,000 from April 2013.

The 11% increase to £48,000 will be financed by a cut in office costs.

An MLA’s basic pay is currently £43,101. MLAs who are committee chairs get another £11,331, while deputy chairs get an extra £5,667.

Junior ministers get £19,609 on top of the basic while ministers get £37,801. The first and deputy first ministers are entitled to £114,535 each.

The Independent Financial Review Panel published its report on MLAs’ salaries and expenses on Wednesday.

The pay issue has been so controversial the assembly agreed an independent panel should decide wages.

In recent years, assembly members’ salaries have not risen in line with those paid in the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly.

Its key decision was that basic pay should rise to £48,000.

To mitigate the cost to the public purse, the panel said that office cost expenses which are higher than Scotland, should be cut by 3% per year by 2014.

North Antrim is represented in the assembly by six MLAs - DUP trio Mervyn Storey, Paul Frew and David McIlveen, Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay and UUP MLA Robin Swann and TUV leader Jim Allister.

When the pay increase was announced last Wednesday, Times readers gave their reaction on our popular Facebook site.

Among the comments posted were: ‘No they aint worth it’

‘no they are not because the people who are in afghanistan fighting for their life’s they are not getting a pay increase’

‘they should be classed as civil servants and have it frozen!’

‘they expect the public to take pay freezes and they are going to get that. Disgusting’

‘I think they should do the decent thing and refuse the pay rise in light of the current financial climate’

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff said his party, throughout the consultation period, had maintained there should be no increase to the salary arrangements for MLAs. The party said it would reject the increase.

However, both Sinn Fein and the DUP questioned the reduction in the office costs allowances and the knock-on effect that would have on constituency services.

Mr McElduff said Sinn Fein would look at how they could “ensure that constituency services are maintained at the current level”.

In a statement, the DUP said it fully supported an independent body setting salaries and allowances.

UUP leader Tom Elliott said the party was “acutely aware” of the economic hardships being faced by many families.

He said the party did not believe it was appropriate to increase assembly members’ salaries “at the expense of the proposed cut in the office cost allowance”.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party did not support an 11% pay increase.

The Alliance Party said the decision on the pay increase had been made by an independent panel “in order to remove any political influence on this matter”.

MLAs will also pay an extra 1% a year in pension contributions.

Official figures currently suggest the average full time wage in Northern Ireland is £23,882.

The average full time wage in the public sector is £29,011 and the average full time wage in the best paid group, the professional occupations, is £36,629.

Panel chair, Pat McCartan, said the “assembly should be applauded for having the courage to place these decisions in the hands of an independent panel totally free of political influence”.

As well as a cut in general office costs, the panel also ruled that MLAs who are also councillors will have 100% of their basic councillor allowance progressively deducted from their MLA salary by 1 April, 2013.

The eight MLAs who are also MPs will have their Assembly Office Costs Expenses progressively reduced from £37,928 per year to £8,655 per year by 1 April, 2014.

The report said that despite the pay rise, the package in its entirety would save £3.16m over the remaining three years of the assembly mandate.